Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deal W. Hudson

3/30/2014 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The culture, it is clear to see, is still reeling from the bad taste of thirty years ago. The value of cultivating and encouraging good taste is no -mere- luxury.

It\'s inevitable that we seek the absolute in our most earnest and passionate endeavors. Being a people more invested in music and entertainment than in morality, it\'s no surprise that fans become fanatical. We often forget that one reason we need God is so our unavoidable, infinite desire for him isn\'t squandered foolishly or violently. Bad taste pollutes and diminishes our public life not simply because it promotes inferior art but because it promotes all the manners and morals that come in its train. Bad taste results in the enjoyment of vulgar TV and banal music, which leads to boring conversation, brutish manners, and obviously violent behavior.

Highlights

By Deal W. Hudson

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

3/30/2014 (2 years ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: taste, manners, habits, virtue, decorum, dignity, deportment, habits, respect, culture, literate, educated, Deal W. Hudson


WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - I have not looked at Chaucer's Canterbury Tales for years until I started reading Peter Ackyrod's new "retelling" in a sparkling prose which maintains the spirit and tone of the original Middle English verse.  As Chaucer's narrator describes his fellow pilgrims in the General Prologue, I was taken aback by two straight-forward assertions: individuals can be judged by their clothing and table manners. 

At table she had been well taught withal,
And never from her lips let morsels fall,
Nor dipped her fingers deep in sauce, but ate
With so much care the food upon her plate
That never driblet fell upon her breast.

(General Prologue 127-131)

I was brought up by my parents to believe manners and appearance were important, and telling. I've employed these criteria my entire adult life - but without saying too much about it out loud. Appearance and manners are no longer viewed as providing norms for judging a person's character.  In fact, to admit placing much importance on how people appear, carry themselves, conduct themselves in public, or at the dinner table is considered by most as snobbery. 

But I can't stop myself from doing it, largely because it has been proven as a reliable, though far from perfect, guide to what people will be like as you get to know them better. The few conversations I've engaged in on this subject have quickly moved to the question of taste.  To say something is "a matter of taste" supposedly consigns it to the realm of subjectivity where no norms or standards abide.

However, taste is a strong indicator of  identity and, in some cases, character: our preferences in the arts have always betrayed strong affinities for certain lifestyles and moral attitudes. We express these allegiances in our dress, our grooming, and our habits of play and recreation. (For example, I despise backwards baseball caps and gum-chewing.)

It's the way we create our identity through our appearance, our likes and dislikes, and what we value that makes taste as explosive an issue as religion and politics. Whoever it was who first said, De gustibus non est disputandum - there can be no disputes in matters of taste - has been proven wrong, once and for all.

The general silence on the value of taste, it seems to me, stems from an obvious cause. We earnestly discuss our "shared" values in an attempt to draw people together, to create a new consensus on the subject of morality. We can confidently espouse our belief in peace, justice, and love, knowing that only the most beastly among us would dare disagree. Such moral generalities guarantee a minimum of quarreling. Mention taste, however, and this happy unanimity begins to crumble.

Why? Because taste is always about a specific object, this movie or that piece of music. Propose the importance of good taste and people immediately cringe at the possibility that their taste will be found lacking. Questions about taste quickly turn toward the concrete in a way that justice and love do not (but should)! "What's wrong with Pulp Fiction? I liked it!"

The fact that disputes over taste quickly turn to particular films or novels is refreshing: For a moment we are actually freed from the airiness of the theoretical. We suddenly feel the weight of what values are actually for - to make judgments, based upon universal standards, about concrete things and actual practices.

Thus, the mere mention of taste actually raises the long-ignored substantive issues about the nature of value itself. We have grown used to ignoring its function as an external measure of actions and character. Taste forces us to face up to the deeper questions we want to avoid. Is this object I have just enjoyed, good for me, or bad?

It's ironic, isn't it, that taste raises the problem of objectivity in values while seeming to be the most subjective of judgments? In fact, it is commonly heard in the history of ethics that contemporary moral theory resembles aesthetics - moral values gradually are being re-duced to matters of "mere taste."

For years I argued lightheartedly with my students about the down-ward spiral of popular music. One day I realized: The argument wasn't about beauty - the quality of melody, harmony, rhythm, or lyrics - it was about the identity they felt through their musical preferences. As much as the aestheticians would like to limit the experience of art to pleasure alone, it's clear that the sociological-moral dimension can't be denied.

It's inevitable that we seek the absolute in our most earnest and passionate endeavors. Being a people more invested in music and entertainment than in morality, it's no surprise that fans become fanatical. We often forget that one reason we need God is so our unavoidable, infinite desire for him isn't squandered foolishly or violently.

Bad taste pollutes and diminishes our public life not simply because it promotes inferior art but because it promotes all the manners and morals that come in its train. Bad taste results in the enjoyment of vulgar TV and banal music, which leads to boring conversation, brutish manners, and obviously violent behavior.

The hegemony of bad taste is evident everywhere - it's the dominant form of the incivility that people are complaining about - the back-wards baseball caps, the cursing comedians, the murderous drivers, the tattoos and navel rings, the tell-all talk shows, starting every sentence with "like," our obsession with the dark side of celebrity lives, and so-called saggy pants.

Of course, the knee-jerk answer from parents whose kids are running around listening to rap music and emulating rappers' dress will be, "Well, I wore beads and long hair in the '60s and I got over it." My response is: "You may have gotten over it, but we all know people who are still using drugs with grey-haired friends while the children are asleep upstairs." The culture, it is clear to see, is still reeling from the bad taste of thirty years ago. The value of cultivating and encouraging good taste is no "mere" luxury.

© Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

-----
Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor and Movie Critic at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, is heard on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


Copyright 2015 - Distributed by THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for April 2016
Universal:
Small Farmers: That small farmers may receive a just reward for their precious labor.
Evangelization: African Christians: That Christians in Africa may give witness to love and faith in Jesus Christ amid political-religious conflicts.



Comments


More U.S.

No Phony Truces in the Battle to Block Most Anti-Life, Liberal Court in a Generation

Image of The United States Supreme Court

By J. Kenneth Blackwell

While much of our attention is on the Presidential race, the looming battle over a Supreme Court nomination merits no less attention.  The battle lines are clear in this nomination and the future of the Court and our Constitutional principles are at ... continue reading


Fr Frank Pavone - Amoris Laetitia: Pope Francis' Encouraging Roadmap for Families Watch

Image of Fr Frank Pavone, National Director, Priests for Life

By Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director, Priests for Life

Amoris Laetitia is a timely and loving exhortation for families towards genuine charity that begins within the nuclear family. It can be described as a new road-map for a culture that has taken a sad and tragic detour. The Joy of Love recognizes women's ... continue reading


Catherine of Siena: We Need Saints for this Missionary Age Watch

Image of Today, in the Roman Catholic Liturgical Calendar, we commemorate one of the greatest women saints of Christian history, Catherine of Siena.  While praying at Peter's tomb, she experienced the great weight of the Church fall on her shoulders.

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Father, raise up women like Catherine of Siena for this new missionary age of your Church. Women who are so in love with you, and so conformed to the Image of your Son, they can do for your Church in this hour, what she did in her own. Saints are a gift for the ... continue reading


Christian student shockingly dropped from master's program for practicing religious rights Watch

Image of Andrew Cash was discriminated against for practicing his religious rights (YouTube).

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Andrew Cash practiced his religious rights at Missouri State University - and was dismissed from the master's program in counseling as a result. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to the Catholic News Agency, Cash was referring same-sex couples to another ... continue reading


Not a newsflash, U.S. government authorized use of propaganda on American people...in 2013. Here's who to blame Watch

Image of Obama signed the amendment into law in 2013.

By David Drudge (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

Does the news seem a little too pro-American to you? Does it seem reporters pull punches and that the real issues are ignored? Perhaps that's the result of a quiet change to the law that took place in 2013. A law banning the use of government propaganda on the American ... continue reading


The cost of incarceration: What can we do? Watch

Image of What can we do about overpopulated prisons and ex-cons' ability to find work (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)?

By Matt Hadro (CNA)

Experts from across the political spectrum are calling for criminal justice reform, as a new White House report shows the human and economic costs of the current justice system. Washington D.C. (CNA) - "This is a singular moment in one of the most challenging issues ... continue reading


Sickening portrayal of Jesus pinned to a dartboard presented as art in university library Watch

Image of

By Abigail James (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

An appalling portrayal of Jesus plastered to a dartboard was posted up as artwork inside the Art Library at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The "art piece," titled "Vitruvian Man," shows Jesus nailed to the dartboard ... continue reading


Which bathroom should you use? And why is this a question? Watch

Image of Figuring out which restroom to use isn't supposed to be a dilemma.

By Marshall Connolly (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

The American people are seemingly obsessed with public restrooms these days and precisely how people use the potty. The fear is being stoked by concerns that individuals who "self-identify" as the opposite sex, will take advantage of liberal policies and assault ... continue reading


Prayer Is the Path to Real Freedom Watch

Image of Prayer is the lifeline of a Christian

By Deacon Keith Fournier

Jesus said to his disciples: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. CHESAPEAKE, VA. ... continue reading


Why is Obama now sending 250 MORE troops to Syria? Watch

Image of U.S. President Barack Obama will be sending more troops to the Middle East.

By Kenya Sinclair (CALIFORNIA NETWORK)

U.S. President Barack Obama announced 250 more special operations forces are to be deployed to Syria within the next few weeks. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) -  Obama stated: "Just as I approved additional support for Iraqi forces against ISIL, I've decided to ... continue reading


All U.S. News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

the FEED
by Catholic Online

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Acts 16:1-10
1 From there he went to Derbe, and then on to Lystra, where there was a ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 100:1-2, 3, 5
1 [Psalm For thanksgiving] Acclaim Yahweh, all the earth,2 ... Read More

Gospel, John 15:18-21
18 If the world hates you, you must realise that it hated me before it ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for April 30th, 2016 Image

St. Pius V, Pope
April 30: Pope from 1566-1572 and one of the foremost ... Read More